Day 2: Phlegm, Snot, and Dead Dogs

The only thing worse than being a crappy teacher is being a crappy teacher whom everyone knows is a crappy teacher. Stephen is pretty bad at his reluctant profession and it seems that everyone including him is acutely aware of the problem. His students are pretty baffled by his ability to ignore an obvious joke, and his boss tells him to his face that teaching is not his vocation. Even Stephen can’t pay attention to his own lessons. His mind wanders through ideas of historical probabilities when he is supposed to be paying attention to his students.

His ineptitude is not lost on his boss Mr. Deasy, who comes off as a polite version of the principle with a chip on his shoulder. You know…this guy:

Deasy spends most of his time trying to justify his existence to Stephen, pretty much trying to pick a fight with him when our boy could pretty much care less. Deasy reminds one of Polonius from “Hamlet”, the father who keeps trying to dispense advice to deaf ears. Deasy gives Stephen a lecture on the need to pay one’s own way that has echoes of “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” and then segues into some good old fashioned anti-semetism, which Stephen challenges pretty easily.

A merchant, Stephen said, is one who buys cheap and sells dear, jew or gentile, is he not?

The sad thing about Deasy is he seems to not get or not hear anything Stephen says. Every time Stephen makes a point, or even a cool statement like the amazing “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken”, Deasy just keeps rambling on as if he hasn’t heard a thing. In the end he rushes after Stephen to tell one last anti-semetic joke and then acts as if it’s the most brilliant part of the whole conversation.

A coghball of laughter leaped from his throat dragging after it a rattling chain of phlegm. he turned back quickly, coughing, laughing, his lifted arms waving in the air.

In a book where a lot of gross things are described, it’s not surprising that one of the grosser images is this description of Deasy’s bigoted laughter.

While we’re on the subject of phlegm, let’s take a moment to look at Joyce’s effective use of snot. In the first chapter we got a few lines from Buck Mulligan regarding Stephen’s handkerchief or “snot rag” as it’s called. Mulligan makes some connections to snotgreen, its appearance on the Irish flag, and Stephen as an Irish poet. It comes as no surprise that in the third act we get to see our boy Stevie pick his nose and leave a big honking booger on a rock for all to see. This is the kind of thing that can make Joyceian scholars go batshit crazy. Anton Chekhov once said “If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired.” With Joyce, if you mention snot in one chapter, you’ve got to pull out a booger later on. The same goes with dead dogs. Mulligan calls Stephen “Dogsbody” at one point, and now we get the corpse of a dog in this chapter, along with a live dog who comes by to have a sniff and a pee. I’m sure there are lots of undergraduate papers that have analyzed dog corpses and snot so I won’t bother trying here.

Earlier I mentioned Stephen’s reminiscences about Paris. It seems that he thoroughly enjoyed himself, although his train of thought is so disjointed it’s kind of hard for the casual reader to follow. The one thing I do follow in this section is the repeated uses of “father” imagery throughout. Deasy is Polonius like and also reminisces about the good ol’ days of Irish rebellion, trying to legitimize his connection to Stephen. You also get some good “Tempest” references as well, all of which seems to point to the search for a missing father. Interestingly enough, Stephen never outright says he’s looking for a father figure, but instead everything is intimated by the references going through his head.

There are so many details in this book that it is very easy to go searching for connections that aren’t there. It’s like an optical illusion: the mind gets these scraps of details and tries to fill them in by looking for connections and relationships. I suppose that’s why scholars spend so much time dissecting “Ulysses”. It’s a never ending Rorschach diagram.


About Geek Squirrel

Author, Poet, and fan of all things geek.
This entry was posted in English Literature, James Joyce, Ulysses, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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